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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Big Tech
Posted: December 19, 2021 at 6:39 pm
After State Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R-32)posted his opinion on the developing Kyle Rittenhouse case, Facebook censored the conservative legislator on their platform.
The censor consists of not being allowed to go live or advertise for an entire month for, "violating Community Standards," especially Facebook policy on, "dangerous individuals and organizations."
Rep. Sabatini has been one of the most proactive representatives on Big Tech. Earlier this year Sabatini authored HB 33. The bill titled, Social Media Websites, intends to, authorize Floridas attorney general to bring legal action on behalf of website users, which, "would apply to any social media company that enters the stream of commerce in Florida.
This past Summer, Governor DeSantis (R-FL) signed a bill that would stop Big Tech companies, like Facebook, from banning political candidates from their platform.
Unfortunately for Sabatini, he was still the subject of censorship. Because of this, the representative is now calling for Big Tech to be broken up immediately.
The state representative is also a candidate for Florida's District 7 race against the incumbent, US Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL). Sabatini has always been known as one of the most conservative legislators in the State House, however, his appeal will be interesting against the self-described, "Blue Dog Democrat," Rep. Murphy.
Here is the original post:
Posted: at 6:39 pm
In recent years, Big Tech executives have all said the same thing about the prospect of sweeping federal reform of legacy social media platforms: bring it on. By openly calling for regulation, Big Tech is luring Congress into stifling free market competitionand lawmakers are taking the bait.
At a recent hearing, the top executive of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, told the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security that the company supports federal oversight of the social media sector. He proposed implementing an industry panel that would regulate safety standards for social networking apps.
Mosseri explained that the panel would answer to policymakers but should have authority to punish tech companies that don't follow its directives. In other words, he called for a bureaucratic committee to regulate the behavior of his and other social media platforms.
The Instagram executive wasn't alone. Facebooknow Metahas published white papers exploring various possibilities for federal regulation. The company's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has publicly called for greater government involvement in the tech sector in areas such as elections, harmful content, privacy and data portability.
"I believe clearer rules would be better for everyone," Zuckerberg wrote last year. "The internet is a powerful force for social and economic empowerment. Regulation that protects people and supports innovation can ensure it stays that way."
As far back as 2019, Twitter's then-CEO Jack Dorsey expressed similar sentiments, declaring that "Generally, I think regulation is a good thing" and that government intervention would be a "net positive" for the tech sector.
There is a very good reason why all these legacy social media giants are so supportive of government action: federal regulations will make it even harder for new platforms to compete with established tech giants.
While mainstream social media networks have the resources to easily absorb the costs of regulatory action, smaller platforms will have to bear the brunt of new policies.
Comprehensive federal regulations are also an easy way for Big Tech to pass off its burden of responsibility to lawmakers. With the federal government in the lead, it would be impossible to demand accountability from Big Tech on issues such as data privacy, mental health and free speech. The duty to implement effective regulations will fall to the bureaucrats, not Big Tech executiveswhich is exactly why this scenario is appealing to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Big Tech's stance on government regulation raises an obvious questionif tech giants really wanted to bring about change, why are they waiting for the federal government? Nothing prevents legacy social media platforms from fixing their mistakes and improving user experiences right now. Instead, they are busy performing public relations stunts and funding marketing campaigns to clean up their tarnished reputations.
Presumably, this is not what most of the American people envision when they ask for accountability from Big Tech. And yet, it is exactly what we will get if Big Tech companies finally get their long-awaited big government oversight.
It must be said that total government inaction is not a solution, either. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, for instance, needs to be properly implemented and enforced to ensure that social media platforms lose their special legal privileges if they participate in political censorship. Even so, Congress needs to be careful about how it reforms Section 230 so as to avoid unintentionally harming smaller social media platforms.
To argue that sweeping government regulation is the only way to reform Big Tech is to pretend that the free market system is incapable of creating alternatives to legacy social media. The tech sector, after all, is not immune to the law of demand, which has driven millions of people to alternative platforms this year alone.
Big Tech's ongoing push for federal regulations is not about taking accountability for the industry's actionsit's about luring lawmakers into a regulatory trap that will stifle new social media ventures. Competition, not sweeping government action, is the key to reforming the world of social media.
Jeff Brain is the founder and CEO of a rising social media platform, CloutHub, which champions free speech, safeguards user privacy, and protects mental health. To learn more about CloutHub, visit http://www.clouthub.com/home.
The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.
Nonprofits have the answers to improve social media: Big Tech has the resources to make it happen – TechCrunch
Posted: at 6:39 pm
The debate around social medias impact on mental health is hardly new, but the conversation has recaptured the worlds attention in light of reports this fall that suggest Facebook has been well aware of the toxic mental health consequences of its platforms for teens.
While this data and the knowledge that Facebook ignored these concerns is troubling, understanding social medias impact on mental health isnt all that simple. In fact, theres a strong argument to be made that social media can offer safe, affirming spaces and connections for young people on the journey to discover themselves and their identities.
These benefits are too often pushed aside while the dark consequences of social media rage on. The fact is that todays popular social networking platforms, like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and more, are designed with monetization as a top priority. At their core, these apps encourage excessive use because more user hours on the app equal more ad support.
The tech industry has an opportunity and a responsibility to make space for platforms that arent dependent on ad dollars.
While some have responded to the latest backlash by declaring that spaces like Instagram should be strictly reserved for adults, I strongly believe that its possible to build a social media environment that is beneficial for teenagers one that helps them discover themselves and affirm who they are; one that lets them explore their identities freely; and one that comforts them in times of darkness and helps them know they are not alone.
Im not sure this future can be cultivated by reactive features alone, but there is potential for social media giants to team up with other organizations and nonprofits to make social media a safer place for all people.
While its difficult to imagine a world where for-profit social media is not a monopoly, it doesnt have to be this way. It may not be realistic to eliminate ad-supported social media apps completely, but the tech industry does have an opportunity and responsibility to make space for platforms that arent dependent on ad dollars.
If the number of views, clicks and ads were secondary to peoples wants and needs, we could revolutionize the way social media platforms work. Together, we could build communities that users can come to on their own terms whether to escape pressure from other apps, connect with peers or find an accepting place where they can be themselves.
While a handful of ad-free social media spaces already exist such as Ello and TrevorSpace, The Trevor Projects social networking site for LGBTQ+ young people they are much smaller and have fewer features, and therefore may not attract the high volume of users who are accustomed to the bells and whistles that come with social media apps such as Instagram.
There also needs to be a space online for young people to explore their identities anonymously, which is nearly impossible when social media companies prioritize ad support over their users mental health and well-being. Advertisers want to know exactly who is spending time on social media so they can target users based on their age, gender, behavior and identities. This becomes especially problematic for young users who want to use social media as a vehicle for figuring out who they are but cant do so discreetly.
In order to overcome this, the industry as a whole needs to make more investments in social media spaces whose purpose isnt profit. Over the past few years, tech giants have made incredible strides in product innovation, which could be applied to other sites that give users a safe place to express themselves and find supportive communities.
Theres a time and place for Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and other ad-supported apps, but theres also a clear need and want for online spaces that arent driven by revenue. It doesnt have to be one or the other, and we can work together to make room for both.
With TrevorSpace, for example, weve invested in research to better understand our users wants and needs, without the added pressure of meeting specific revenue goals. Through this research, weve learned that our users look to the internet to explore their identities and value having a safe space where they can express themselves.
Beyond investing in more nonprofit social media platforms, theres also an opportunity for tech companies to apply their leading-edge AI developments to improve the user experience on social media and alleviate some of the mental health stressors caused by spending too much time online.
Social media sites currently use machine learning to inform algorithms that encourage people to spend more time online, but its possibilities extend far beyond that. We know that technology has the power to support peoples mental health instead of exacerbating mental illness, so what if we used AI to give users newfound control over social media?
Imagine if AI could help people find what they really need in a given moment like guiding users to content that makes them laugh when they want to laugh or cry when they want to cry, facilitating connections between like-minded users that build positive relationships, or suggesting resources that give them skills or knowledge that positively impact their life.
The majority of social media apps today use AI to determine our feeds, for you pages and timelines for us. However, if we instead used AI to let people guide their own journeys on social media, we could foster a fundamentally different emotional experience one that supported their wants and needs instead of simply monopolizing their time and attention.
This sounds like a no-brainer, and some may even believe this is already happening. However, as recently bolstered by former Facebook product manager Frances Haugens testimony, this is simply not how the content we see is curated in the current hands of social media leaders. That must change.
Thanks to unprecedented innovations and research in social media, we have the technology needed to create sites that are conducive to our well-being; its just a matter of investing time and resources in developing them and creating space for nonprofit apps to coexist with major ad-supported apps.
Looking ahead, I see the potential for social media companies to partner with nonprofit companies to develop AI that gives users control over the content they see and how they interact with it, but it would take major time, investment and collaboration from both parties. It would also require social media giants to be OK with making room for much-needed alternative apps in the space.
Making social media safer and healthier for all people is a goal that many nonprofits, including The Trevor Project, are dedicated to realizing, and we would greatly benefit from social media companies help making it happen.
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Posted: at 6:39 pm
In his 2021 Reith lectures, the third episode of which airs tonight, the artificial intelligence researcher Stuart Russell takes up the idea of a near-future AI that is so ruthlessly intelligent that it might pose an existential threat to humanity. A machine we create that might destroy us all.
This has long been a popular topic with researchers and the press. But we believe an existential threat from AI is both unlikely and in any case far off, given the current state of the technology. However, the recent development of powerful, but far smaller-scale, AI systems has had a significant effect on the world already, and the use of existing AI poses serious economic and social challenges. These are not distant, but immediate, and must be addressed.
These include the prospect of large-scale unemployment due to automation, with attendant political and social dislocation, as well as the use of personal data for purposes of commercial and political manipulation. The incorporation of ethnic and gender bias in datasets used by AI programs that determine job candidate selection, creditworthiness, and other important decisions is a well-known problem.
But by far the most immediate danger is the role that AI data analysis and generation plays in spreading disinformation and extremism on social media. This technology powers bots and amplification algorithms. These have played a direct role in fomenting conflict in many countries. They are helping to intensify racism, conspiracy theories, political extremism and a plethora of violent, irrationalist movements.
Such movements are threatening the foundations of democracy throughout the world. AI-driven social media was instrumental in mobilising Januarys insurrection at the US Capitol, and it has propelled the anti-vax movement since before the pandemic.
Behind all of this is the power of big tech companies, which develop the relevant data processing technology and host the social media platforms on which it is deployed. With their vast reserves of personal data, they use sophisticated targeting procedures to identify audiences for extremist posts and sites. They promote this content to increase advertising revenue, and in so doing, actively assist the rise of these destructive trends.
They exercise near-monopoly control over the social media market, and a range of other digital services. Meta, through its ownership of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, and Google, which controls YouTube, dominate much of the social media industry. This concentration of power gives a handful of companies far-reaching influence on political decision making.
Given the importance of digital services in public life, it is reasonable to expect that big tech would be subject to the same sort of regulation that applies to the corporations that control markets in other parts of the economy. In fact, this is not generally the case.
The social media agencies have not been restricted by the antitrust regulations, truth in advertising legislation, or laws against racist incitement that apply to traditional print and broadcast networks. Such regulation does not guarantee responsible behaviour (as rightwing cable networks and rabid tabloids illustrate), but it does provide an instrument of constraint.
Three main arguments have been advanced against increased government regulation of big tech. The first holds that it would inhibit free speech. The second argues that it would degrade innovation in science and engineering. The third maintains that socially responsible companies can best regulate themselves. These arguments are entirely specious.
Some restrictions on free speech are well motivated by the need to defend the public good. Truth in advertising is a prime example. Legal prohibitions against racist incitement and group defamation are another. These constraints are generally accepted in most liberal democracies (with the exception of the US) as integral to the legal approach to protecting people from hate crime.
Social media platforms often deny responsibility for the content of the material that they host, on the grounds that it is created by individual users. In fact, this content is published in the public domain, and so it cannot be construed as purely private communication.
When it comes to safety, government-imposed regulations have not prevented dramatic bioengineering advances, like the recent mRNA-based Covid vaccines. Nor did they stop car companies from building efficient electric vehicles. Why would they have the unique effect of reducing innovation in AI and information technology?
Finally, the view that private companies can be trusted to regulate themselves out of a sense of social responsibility is entirely without merit. Businesses exist for the purpose of making money. Business lobbies often ascribe to themselves the image of a socially responsible industry acting out of a sense of concern for public welfare. In most cases this is a public relations manoeuvre intended to head off regulation.
Any company that prioritises social benefit over profit will quickly cease to exist. This was showcased in Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugens recent congressional testimony, indicating that the companys executives chose to ignore the harm that some of their algorithms were causing, in order to sustain the profits they provided.
Consumer pressure can, on occasion, act as leverage for restraining corporate excess. But such cases are rare. In fact, legislation and regulatory agencies are the only effective means that democratic societies have at their disposal for protecting the public from the undesirable effects of corporate power.
Finding the best way to regulate a powerful and complex industry like big tech is a difficult problem. But progress has been made on constructive proposals. Lina Khan, the US federal trade commissioner advanced antitrust proposals for dealing with monopolistic practices in markets. The European commission has taken a leading role in instituting data protection and privacy laws.
Academics MacKenzie Common and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen offer a balanced discussion of ways in which government can restrict disinformation and hate speech in social media, while sustaining free expression. This is the most complex, and most pressing, of the problems involved in controlling technology companies.
The case for regulating big tech is clear. The damage it is doing across a variety of domains is throwing into question the benefits of its considerable achievements in science and engineering. The global nature of corporate power renders the ability of national governments in democratic countries to restrain big tech increasingly limited.
There is a pressing need for large trading blocs and international agencies to act in concert to impose effective regulation on digital technology companies. Without such constraints big tech will continue to host the instruments of extremism, bigotry, and unreason that are generating social chaos, undermining public health and threatening democracy.
Devdatt Dubhashi is professor of data science and AI at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. Shalom Lappin is professor of natural language processing at Queen Mary University of London, director of the Centre for Linguistic Theory and Studies in Probability at the University of Gothenburg, and emeritus professor of computational linguistics at Kings College London.
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In the room where it happens: Ex-Qualcomm attorney Don Rosenberg talks legal battles in big tech – The San Diego Union-Tribune
Posted: at 6:39 pm
After a 45-year career as the top corporate lawyer at IBM, Apple and Qualcomm, Don Rosenberg has plenty of stories to tell about the legal battles in big tech.
Like his behind-the-scenes role in an FBI sting that caught Hitachi plotting to steal IBMs software secrets; or his gambit to acquire the iPhone trademark ahead of its 2007 debut; or his stonewalling Chinas anti-monopoly regulators who sought access to Qualcomms U.S.-based computer servers during dawn raids at the companys offices in Beijing and Shanghai.
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But Rosenberg says his finest hour came three years ago late in his career when he spotted a loose thread in the netting around Broadcoms hostile takeover attempt of Qualcomm. He and his small team pulled it until the whole thing unraveled.
Rosenberg, 70, retired last month as Qualcomms general counsel and head of Government Affairs after 14 years at the San Diego mobile technology firm. He helped shepherd the company through grueling lawsuits with Apple, the Federal Trade Commission and competition regulators worldwide.
He also spent 30 years at IBM in jobs including head of litigation and general counsel. He was involved in the gigantic, nearly billion-dollar arbitrations with Fujitsu over alleged copying of IBMs mainframe operating system. He personally negotiated a $775 million settlement with Microsoft stemming from claims that the Seattle company engaged in anti-competitive conduct. And he persisted in getting a federal judge to sunset a 1956 antitrust consent decree that cast a shadow over IBM for four decades.
A Brooklyn native who grew up in public housing, Rosenberg took a roundabout path to law. After graduating college with a math degree, he worked as a pension analyst at an insurance company a job he disliked. His fiancee suggested that he consider law school. He sat for the Law School Admissions Test on their wedding day.
Antitrust has been a theme throughout Rosenbergs career. He won General Counsel of the Year in 2021 from The American Lawyer magazine, which cited Rosenberg and his team for being at the epicenter of some of the most significant cases that address the intersection of intellectual property and competition policy.
Rosenberg spoke with the Union-Tribune to unpack some of Qualcomms recent legal fights and look to the future as well as speak to what it was like to report to Steve Jobs.
On Nov. 2, 2017, Broadcom Chief Executive Hock Tan a wizard at wringing value out of acquisitions held a press conference with then-President Trump to announce the relocation of Broadcoms corporate headquarters from Singapore back to the U.S.
Four days later, Broadcom made an unsolicited offer to acquire Qualcomm for $105 billion in cash and stock.
Talks quickly turned hostile. The showdown was set for March 2018, when a slate of Broadcom-nominated alternative directors stood for election at Qualcomms annual shareholder meeting.
In the run-up to the vote, Rosenberg recalled that Broadcom had trouble with the Committee for Foreign Investment in the U.S. or CFIUS during a previous acquisition. The agency has broad authority to review foreign acquisitions of U.S. firms for national security concerns.
He and his team dug into the process of redomiciling. They found that Broadcom hadnt taken any of the procedural steps necessary to move its headquarters back to the U.S. including filing with a Singapore court and with U.S. securities regulators.
It had been a couple of months, he said. So, despite their statements that they were going to do it, they were still a foreign entity and therefore subject, in my opinion, to the CFIUS process.
That was the genesis of a government inquiry. Qualcomm argued that Broadcoms cost-cutting would cripple U.S. wireless leadership, opening the door for China to dominate important communications technologies.
Rosenberg and Qualcomms outside lawyers had almost daily conversations with Treasury people and the National Security people, trying to get their heads around what I was talking about which was yes, its a proxy fight and you usually dont get in the middle of proxy fights. But this is a different animal.
He contended that if Broadcoms slate of directors was elected, the acquisition essentially would be a done deal -- without a thorough CFIUS review.
During this back and forth, CFIUS required Broadcom to give it a five-day advanced notice before taking steps toward redomiciling. Rosenberg hired a Singapore law firm to watch the court where Broadcom would need to begin the process.
Broadcom indeed made a filing with the court, but without notifying CFIUS in advance.
That had a major impact, I think, on their credibility with the government, he said.
Things moved fast from there. Trump issued a presidential order immediately and permanently blocking the hostile takeover based on CFIUS findings that it threatened to impair the national security of the United States.
People throw the word around, but that was absolutely an existential moment, said Rosenberg. Qualcomm would not be what it is today if that hostile had taken place. And frankly, I dont think the (mobile) industry would be what it is today if that had succeeded.
In 2006, Apple recruited Rosenberg away from IBM to be its general counsel. He only lasted a year. He doesnt say much about the experience other than he never got comfortable at Apple.
During one of Rosenbergs first days in the office, Steve Jobs showed him a handheld device with a big screen, touch-based scrolling and all kinds of other tricks.
I was blown away, and I expressed that to him, said Rosenberg. I remember his big broad smile. That was to be the iPhone.
Donald J. Rosenberg
Title: Retired executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Qualcomm. Before that, served as senior vice president and general counsel of Apple, and held numerous roles including senior vice president and general counsel at IBM. Expertise in corporate governance, compliance, litigation, securities regulation, intellectual property and competition law.
Education: Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and a law degree from St. Johns University School of Law.
Activities: Member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Advisory Board at UC San Diegos School of Global Policy and Strategy, and serves on the China Leadership Board for the 21st Century China Center at UC San Diego. He has served as an adjunct professor of law at New Yorks Pace University School of Law, where he taught courses in intellectual property and antitrust.
Rumors spread about the upcoming new handset, and the media was calling it the iPhone in coverage.
(Steve Jobs) hated rumors, and he absolutely hated the press. And he would say things like were not naming it that because nobody names my products except me, said Rosenberg. And I remember having conversations with him saying he could call this device mud. Its not going to matter. Its the product that matters.
In the end, Jobs opted for the iPhone name. But Cisco Systems owned the trademark, which it got through an acquisition of a company that developed a little-known IP phone that it called the iPhone.
It fell to Rosenberg to acquire the trademark. Apple was not on friendly terms with Cisco at the time, he said, and it was no secret that Apple wanted the name.
I had to negotiate, negotiate, negotiate, said Rosenberg. But I can say I had a great argument that they had abandoned the mark. I really felt I had a strong case. I said to them I think I may have a case for fraud on the patent office.
The companies came to terms.
We paid for it, but we paid, in my opinion, a lot less than we would have, said Rosenberg. So, I was able to acquire the iPhone mark, although Steve announced the iPhone before I had actually finished. I got a call in the auditorium from the general counsel at Cisco asking what the hell is going on.
While Qualcomm largely won its punishing legal bouts of the past couple of years, some investors worry that patent controversies havent been laid to rest, particularly with Apple.
They cite the similarities between this latest round of lawsuits with Apple and regulators and litigation brought by Nokia in 2007, which was settled on the eve of trial.
Whats to stop serial challenges to Qualcomms patent licensing business model every decade or so?
Rosenberg points to several things. The biggest is the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals finding that Qualcomms patent licensing practices are legal. It was a major victory and establishes a precedent within the Ninth Circuits jurisdiction.
In addition, the company was able to secure court injunctions banning the sale of certain iPhone models in Germany and China. Rosenberg says the injunctions highlight the strength of Qualcomms intellectual property, which includes a portfolio of more than 100,000 patents.
Qualcomm failed to get injunctions in the United States. Patent attorneys say case law makes product bans for infringement very difficult, if not impossible, to get in the U.S., particularly for patents included in widely used technology standards.
I used to talk about how a (patent) portfolio was like a garden. You have to weed it and seed it and cultivate it, Rosenberg said. We have helped move the needle on things like patent rights, the value of patents, standard essential patents, the application of competition law to intellectual property rights through our cases, through our resolutions, through our advocacy and through some of the legislative initiatives that we helped move in the right direction.
That doesnt mean rivals wont take legal action in hopes of sidestepping patent royalties, he added. Patent cases are notoriously lengthy, expensive and unpredictable. Big, well-financed companies that license intellectual property have an incentive to file lawsuits and string out litigation to avoid paying.
But Rosenberg thinks licensees will be more cautious about pursuing these types of tactics after Qualcomm came out on top in these fights.
A lot of us who participated in this have put the business in a very strong position, stronger than it has been in quite some time, he said.
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Ending the Urge to Merge: The House and Senate Take on Big Tech M&A – Public Knowledge Tech News and Comment
Posted: at 6:39 pm
By Alex PetrosDecember 14, 2021
If competition against Big Tech were a card game, you probably wouldnt think it was a particularly fair one. The proverbial deck is stacked in the incumbents favor through both natural and artificial competitive barriers from network effects, to the increasing returns to scope and scale of data, to the unprecedented power over the user interface. Lax enforcement has allowed Big Tech to gobble up competitors and they can now wield their power to prevent any efforts to weaken their stranglehold on online markets. Combatting this power is not as simple as tweaking one or two minor things. We need an all-of-the-above approach to both change fundamental market dynamics and strip away the tools that Big Tech has used so effectively to gain and maintain their dominant position.
Thankfully, the House Judiciary Committee is well aware of competitive problems inherent in online markets, given their year-long investigation and over-400-page report issued late last year. Their response is a package of bills designed to strip away the structural advantages and anticompetitive tools Big Tech has used to gain and keep market power. Worried about the gravitational pull of network effects towards large, incumbent platforms? The ACCESS Act of 2021 is your answer. Platforms using their market overseer role to self-preference and protect their power? Try the American Innovation and Choice Online Act. Antitrust agencies dont have the funds to go toe-to-toe with ever-growing Big Tech legal teams and bring big, bold cases? The Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act should fix that. Troubled by Big Techs gargantuan size and the inherent conflicts of interest in their business models? The Ending Platform Monopolies Act is for you.
Thankfully the House Judiciary Committee is not alone in this fight as we also have Senate champions for Big Tech accountability. Senators Amy Klobuchar, Richard Blumenthal, Chuck Grassley, and Tom Cotton are leading the way in issuing modified versions of the House competition package. Highlights have included The Open App Markets Act from Senators Blumenthal and Blackburn to target market abuses in app stores and the American Innovation and Choice Online Act from Klobuchar, Grassley, and a bipartisan team of a dozen senators. Senator Klobuchar and Cottons most recent endeavor mirrors a pillar of the House package, the Platform Competition and Opportunity Act of 2021 (the mergers bill).
Public Knowledge has written extensively about the package. One post provides a broad overview of the entire package. Another tackles the thorny question of how the antitrust bills will affect content moderation (spoiler: not much, and if anything, positively). A third goes in depth on the ACCESS Act and interoperability. This post will offer an analysis of the House and Senate versions of the Platform Competition and Opportunity Act of 2021.
Big Tech earned their moniker through aggressive and unprecedented growth. The fuel for that growth and the key ingredient in maintaining their dominant market position? Mergers and acquisitions. The stagnant technology markets of today, with relatively unchallenged firms dominating personal fiefdoms in the online economy, are exacerbated by Big Techs past anticompetitive acquisitions. Googles dominance of online advertising finds its roots in the acquisition of Doubleclick and AdMob. Facebooks dominance of social networking might not have been possible without gobbling up Instagram and WhatsApp. Amazon ensured it would be the only Everything Store by buying up niche rivals like Zappos and Diapers.com. Apples walled garden has both expanded and grown more oppressive as a direct result of acquisitions like Beats Music and Siri.
In hindsight, its easy to criticize antitrust enforcers for waving these mergers through. After all, antitrust is supposed to protect competition, but it is clear today that many of the aforementioned acquisitions have harmed both competition and consumers. Under the Clayton Act, todays main merger law, acquisitions where the effect may be substantially to lessen competition, or to tend to create a monopoly are prohibited. Two generations of courts have favored strict interpretations of this provision, made especially difficult in the tech sector due to the necessity of predicting (and proving) what a market will look like in the future.
Enter the Platform Competition and Opportunity Act of 2021. If enacted into law, this bill would shift the burden of proving whether a merger harms competition onto the Big Tech titans themselves. Similar to the rest of the package, the bill only applies to a narrow category of covered platforms which today would mean Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and (most likely) Microsoft. These five would have to prove, by clear and convincing evidence that their proposed acquisition does not fall into any one of five categories, else the acquisition is prohibited. They are:
1) Acquisitions not subject to the Clayton Act (Section 7A carveouts). These are the mergers that are extremely unlikely to affect competition in any meaningful way and are already explicitly permitted in antitrust law. This category includes de minimis acquisitions and those transactions that occur in the ordinary course of business (think a company buying office supplies).
2) Not competing with the platform itself. A covered platform cant acquire a company that competes with the platform for any product or service offered by that platform. This covers the bread-and-butter antitrust analysis of two companies directly competing in the same identified market. Think Google trying to buy DuckDuckGo.
3) Nascent or potential competition. A covered platform isnt just prohibited from buying companies that compete with it right now, but also those that are likely to compete in the future. Think of Facebooks successful acquisition of WhatsApp (a flourishing messaging service that could have become a social network competitor) as the kind of acquisition this provision is meant to block.
4) Increasing market power. Beyond competitive threats, a covered platforms acquisition cannot enhance or increasemarket position for a product or service that is offered on, or directly related to, the platform. Think Amazon buying FedEx. This would further entrench its online delivery market power and freeze out would-be rivals that currently use FedEx instead of Amazon. Logistics/package fulfillment is a service Amazon offers, and its certainly directly related to the online retail platform.
5) Maintaining market power. Finally, a covered platform cannot acquire a company that would bolster its ability to maintain its market position with a product or service offered on the platform or otherwise related to the platform. Anything that would make the covered platform harder to dislodge from its current dominant position, such as buying up a critical input or downstream buyer, would fall into this category. Think Facebooks acquisition of Instagram. Instagram was then just a small company, but it posed a serious threat to Facebook on mobile phones, which were quickly rising in prominence. The Instagram acquisition may also have violated other parts of this proposed legislation, but to the extent that the acquisition helped Facebook maintain its market position and weather the seismic shift to mobile, it could have been stopped by this legislation.
Both versions of the bill have a $50 million floor for acquisitions, so small deals which often lack a competitive concern (even given inflation, all of the deals we think of today as having been problematic were well north of the $50 million mark). Theres only one substantive difference between the House and Senate versions of the merger bill. While both bills cover online platforms with a $600 billion market capitalization (the five aforementioned companies), the House version allows for more companies to eventually fall under the bills restrictions, while the Senate version will only ever apply to companies initially designated under the bill. This stickiness in the Senate bill removes worries that the restrictions meant to rein in todays Big Tech titans could be applied more broadly. Crucially, as stated above, the bill would only affect five companies right now, so its not completely changing the merger landscape. But for those covered platforms, expect this bill to significantly curtail their ability to acquire would-be rivals.
If youre thinking that those categories cover most types of acquisitions Big Tech companies might make, youre not wrong. These bills would promote competition against Big Tech, so that fresh and diverse ideas, people, and companies set the direction of future innovation on the internet. No one vision will be imposed on the internet. Yet some critics are concerned about the bills effects on a pretty narrow category of people startup founders whose companies are built to be bought by Big Tech. Some startups today are created as an additional feature or synergy with a Big Tech platform where the most lucrative exit ramp is simply to be bought by a Big Tech titan. This bill would effectively end that practice. As of today, entrepreneurs that promise to competitively challenge Big Tech get laughed out of a potential investors office, while those that offer minor enhancements to todays same platforms get showered in investment cash. Ask yourself if this kind of innovation has really been beneficial for you and other consumers or just beneficial for some venture capital firms and Big Tech itself. Consumers benefit when companies duke it out and fiercely compete over their money and attention, not when those same companies can rest on their laurels because any competitive threats have already been neutralized. Real innovation that actually benefits consumers and disrupts the Big Tech status quo will be more likely as a result of this bill, not less.
This bill has the potential to change the innovation game for the better. Startups still have a buyout off-ramp if they so choose it just has to be any other company that buys them, not one of these five already dominant companies. The Big Tech companies themselves remain free to invest and innovatethe bill just prevents them from buying success instead of earning it. In a world with interoperability and nondiscrimination requirements creating open and fair markets, I think youll see a lot more funding of companies that directly challenge the Big Tech platforms. When these monopolies become competitive markets, consumers can expect more and better choices. Who knows what innovations you could be enjoying right now if we hadnt been mired in a Big Tech Dark Age completely different ways for communities to communicate or even new tools for information discovery. This bill could help restore innovation to the market by reinstating real competition.
In short, the Platform Competition Opportunity Act of 2021 can work in concert with the rest of the A Stronger Online Economy package to tackle the problem of Big Tech. The bill would remove perhaps their most potent tool of growth mergers and acquisitions, yet we need to fundamentally change the structure of Big Tech markets to really let competition flourish. The Senate taking action on nondiscrimination and mergers is huge progress, and we need to build on it. Next, we need Senate companions for interoperability and structural separations, and then to put the entire package on President Bidens desk to become law. Its time to unstack the deck and force Big Tech to play a fair game.
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Posted: at 6:39 pm
Two teenagers watch a chat with friends on their smartphone
Ute Grabowsky | Photothek | Getty Images
LONDON A group of British lawmakers said Tuesday that "major changes" need to be made to the U.K.'s upcoming Online Safety Bill.
The draft bill is a proposed new piece of legislation that's designed to make the internet a safer place for people in the U.K.
However, some lawmakers are concerned that the current proposals don't go far enough.
In a report published Tuesday, the U.K. Parliament's joint committee on the draft bill said more offences should be brought within the scope of the proposed law.
"We're bringing in a lot more offences onto the face of the bill that deal with things like promoting self harm, racial abuse and other forms of abuse," Damian Collins, a lawmaker and chair of the committee, told CNBC, adding that it should be clear what the tech companies' responsibilities are.
The regulator should be able to say to the tech companies "these are the minimum standards you've got to hit" and explain what needs to be done in each category of harm, Collins added.
The committee also wants online fraud and scam advertising to be included in the bill's scope and an ombudsman to consider individual complaints.
Users should also be able to take tech companies to courts if they fail to meet their obligations under the act, Collins said, adding that named directors should be subject to criminal liability when they fail to disclose information that has been asked for or fail to comply with the act.
"These would be quite big changes to the way this [bill] works," Collins said. "The core thing is it's taking existing offences and law and applying them online and that the regulator has the legal power to do that.
The committee is calling for a plethora of online activities to be outlawed including the promotion of self-harm online, deepfake pornography (AI-generated porn) and targeting epilepsy sufferers with flashing images online.
TV and radio regulator Ofcom was put in charge of regulating the internet in the U.K. in February.
The committee said the government should give Ofcom more powers to investigate, audit and fine Big Tech, adding that the regulator should also be able to set the standards by which Big Tech will be held accountable.
"The era of self-regulation for big tech has come to an end," said Collins. "The companies are clearly responsible for services they have designed and profit from, and need to be held to account for the decisions they make."
Elsewhere in the U.K., the Competition and Markets Authority and the Information Commissioner's Office also have the ability to impose fines and penalties on technology companies.
Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok have all been criticized by lawmakers in the U.K. and other parts of the world for allowing harmful content to be shared on their platforms. They say they're doing their best to remove it, but many lawmakers aren't satisfied.
During the U.K. inquiry, MPs and peers heard from victims of online harms including ex-Manchester United player Rio Ferdinand and TV presenter Martin Lewis. The inquiry also involved Facebook whistleblowers Frances Haugen and Sophie Zhang.
The bill is set to be put to Parliament for approval in 2022.
Posted: at 6:39 pm
If you are a fashionista using social media in 2021, theres a fat chance you would have come across advertisements or pictures displaying striped vests or spaghetti tops that remind you of the 2000s era, or like the internet likes to hashtag it, the Y2K trend. In fact, you might just see similar clothing items all over the internet and on fashion websites such as Shein, AliExpress or Urbanic. Big Tech has a ton to offer to the changing fashion industry with an array of products, social media platforms to market them and e-commerce platforms to sell them. It is changing the face of the fashion industry and giving birth to a new culture: fast fashion.
The fast-fashion culture is essentially really cheap clothing items, produced at a mass rate and in line with the trends changing faster than seasons. To add attractive features like short delivery times and 30-day return policies offered by these online portals are taking over the industry.
Microtrends have, as the name suggests, always been short-lived, but lately, this trend cycle has been accelerated a lot with the growing social media culture. Now these trends last up to a few weeks or months at most. The trend cycle conventionally included five stages introduction, rise, culmination, decline, and obsolescence. It has now been reduced to just three, with introduction/rise/culmination becoming one step.
A cultural aspect that is still unchanged is the human nature to jump on the bandwagon, so be it a year or a month, people will find ways to be in on the trends. And what better way than cheap clothing you can wear a few times and throw away?
Big Data: The Secret Sauce
The secret sauce behind the brands quick trendsetting is owed to optimising everything with big data. In an investigation of fast fashion website Sheins internal workings, restofworld revealed that Sheins internal software, from design to delivery to each supplier, is powered by big data. The suppliers are provided with personal accounts where the brand gives them current information about the styles in fashion, possible trends, hits, and misses so the brand can adapt and create clothing accordingly.
Big data has made it possible to conduct market research without having local knowledge. As a result, Shein has broken into vast geographies with success in Brazil, New Zealand, South Africa, France and more, owing to target specific demographic data it collects and leverages.
If a big celebrity like Kylie Jenner makes news for wearing a specific dress that most fans wouldnt be able to afford, Shein will easily find a dupe on such websites at a quarter of the price. The company leverages AI to study luxury clothing material and create the exact dupes, same as the colour, shape, and size at a speedy rate.
The reliance on big data is essential to catching on to trends better and quickly having suppliers get on to the clothes. The advantage that Shein has is that it need not create trends but catch on to the existing ones quick enough. To put this into perspective, while Zara expects the manufacturer to produce 2000 items in a month, Shein demands only 100 products in 10 days.
The amount of data collected may not be all ethical. The brand has been accused of surveillance capitalism by Tom Tugendhat, the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman. According to him, Sheins data collection network can rival many of the worlds intelligent agencies by using their mobile apps to spy on the users choices.
Additionally, an algorithm is present to showcase the latest designs on the home page and change them according to a change in the trend at an unparalleled speed. The recommendations are accompanied by discount pop-ups and sale countdowns that grab the users attention. That is not to say the algorithm is foolproof. Just last year, the algorithm pushed a necklace with a swastika charm, bringing Shein under heavy scrutiny.
Influencer culture, dupes and social media
Sheins interface presents thousands of new styles daily. This trend adds back to the influencer culture and the haul culture pushed by these platforms, especially TikTok and YouTube. The short form videos on the platforms lead to increased consumption. Hauls are the ticket to fame on such platforms, causing anyone who wants to get more views on their content, to jump on this bandwagon.
People get dressed up to post it online, contributing to the influencer culture. In fact, the fast fashion industry saw a boost in business during the lockdown, when people werent even leaving their houses and still buying tons of clothes. By 2020, Sheins sales had risen by 250 percent from the previous year, adding to $10 billion in revenue.
An effective marketing strategy by brands today is sending thousands of PR packages of the same product to influencers all around, so when they all share it online at the same time, it creates a trend. Additional frenzy is manufacturers selling the same products on various websites, from Shein to Urbanic and Romwe. Emerging technologies have given them the power to sell their products across platforms. This means you will see the same style on every other fashion platform, adding to the hype.
YouTube Video Thumbnail: Influencer Marketing
TikTok Clothing Haul
The culture of silicon valley isnt optimised on consumer choice, said Roger McNamee, partner, Elevation Partners, at BoF VOICES. Their profit comes from getting all of us to do what they want. Which is to say the same thing in their world everybody wears the same clothes in their world, everybody believes the same things because thats more efficient.
Shein leading the race
Shein, reflecting the growing e-commerce fast fashion industry, has become the most popular shopping app on both Android and iOS in the US. It was also the top iOS app in over 50 countries and the second most popular fashion website globally. In fact, the brands sales in the US in June accounted for 28 percent of the fast fashion market, close to the revenue of Zara and H&M combined. So surely, the app, and fast fashion, has a growing influence in the fashion industry.
Fast fashion thrives on speed. Shein leads the fast fashion industry as it can swifty identify trends, manufacture and ship the deliverables, all in a week. Shein has the added advantage of shipping across the globe. Ironically, the company doesnt sell in China. It rather takes advantage of Chinas trade relations with the US to import clothing to the USA. Chinese packages worth less than $800 can enter the US without added duties.
Given that Shein works directly with customers; unlike H&M or Zara, the company ships packages worth smaller amounts, not paying export taxes. The company ships to over 220 countries according to their claims. This is in comparison to H&Ms 75 countries and Zaras 100.
While Shein is leading, other companies are not far behind. Think Amazon, Alibaba and likes. After Shein was banned in India, the market was soon taken over by brands like Urbanic or Romwe.
Fast fashion is not conducive to a sustainable future or ethical growth for all its popularity. Apart from being sued by bigger brands, companies like Shein or Romwe have come under a series of controversies and scrutiny, with people wondering just how the brands are producing such cheap and quick clothing. Journalists digging into the nature of products have uncovered the work being outsourced through sweatshops that subject workers to brutal working conditions with meagerly pay and comprise of child labour.
A report by Public Eye, a Swiss advocacy group, found workers in six sites in Guangzhou to be working 75-hour weeks. Workers were clocking in three shifts a day with only one day of leave all month. The report also claimed that when Shein was informed of the non-compliance to labour laws, the company assured them they would run an investigation.
The largest consequence is the impact on the environment. Even though companies claim to use recyclable materials and quality raw materials when possible, it is impossible to make such cheap clothing without hazardous chemicals. One should also take note that the clothes are individually packed in plastic bags. Considering the tremendous amount of orders the company packs in just one day, a lot of plastic and toxins will end up in landfills.
Shein Packaging: Credits
The Other End Of The Spectrum
While big tech has encouraged and pushed fast fashion on one end, the other end of the spectrum is witnessing a revolution of fashion as we know it. The metaverse is birthing digital clothes and NFTs, making fashion as sustainable as it can be.
Granted, the digital wave of fashion is still in its infancy; it comes with a ray of hope to match up with the landfills of the fast-fashion wave.
Posted: December 10, 2021 at 7:18 pm
Its open season on Americas digital media marketplace, withboththe left and right lining up to take regulatory shots at tech platforms, but for very different reasons. If both sides get their way, the result will be a more politicized media sector and unprecedented government interference with freedom of speech.
Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon and Apple have all become political pinatas for federal and state policymakers, with legislation and lawsuits launched seemingly on a weekly basis. But there is considerable confusion in the complaints both parties make about Big Tech.
Democrats want tech companies doing more to limit content they claim is hate speech, misinformation, or that incites violence. Republicans want online operators to do less, because many conservatives believe tech platforms already take down too much of their content.
The only thing unifying both sides is a desire for greater regulatory control of media. In todays hyper-partisan world, tech platforms have become just another plaything to be dominated by politics and regulation. When the ends justify the means, principles that transcend the battles of the day like property rights, free speech and editorial independence become disposable. These are things we take for granted until theyve been chipped away at and lost.
Is there any way to make both sides happy without undermining the digital economy, which has been dominated globally by American firms for over a quarter century?
Thats unlikely, but it hasnt stopped lawmakers from introducing a flurry of bills to weaken or eliminate protections afforded bySection 230, which limits liability for platforms that host user-generated content. Implemented in 1996, it has served asthe cornerstone of Americas ascendancyin the digital world andhelped spur an avalanche of innovation. Gutting it would put all that at risk.
Without admitting it, both sides are really at war against the First Amendment, which protects the editorial decisions made by private companies. To be sure, there is problematic content to be found on digital media platforms, and there aresome legitimate complaintsabout overzealous takedown policies and lack of transparent standards. That does not mean there is an easy policy fix to those problems, however. Butcourts have held repeatedlythat the First Amendment protects efforts by private media firms to devise their own approaches.Just last week, a Texas judge blocked a law that sought to limit social media platforms editorial freedoms. That followed a court in Floridaenjoining a similar lawthis summer.
Critics like to paint large tech companies as nefarious overlords out to destroy civilization. In reality, the problems we see and hear on modern platforms reflect deeper problems in our society. If these companies are to be blamed for anything, its making human communication so frictionless that every person now has a soapbox to speak to the world. Thats both a blessing and a curse. With unbounded speech comes many wonders but also many problems.
Now, large digital intermediaries are expected to make all those pathologies go away through some magical Goldilocks formula whereby they get content moderation just right. Its an impossible task with billions of voices speaking. Bureaucrats wont do a better job refereeing these disputes, and letting them do so will turn every content spat into an endless regulatory proceeding.
It is particularly surprising that someconservatives are joining the choruscalling for common carrier regulations orFairness Doctrine-like speech mandates, which would let government micromanage speech platforms. In this debate,they areinviting comprehensive political control of communications platforms, which is antithetical to a limited government philosophy.
Moreover, why would conservatives believe theyll benefit from more regulation? Even if one accepts the notion that social media platforms discriminate against conservative speakers or viewpoints, will freshly empowered bureaucrats really help them push private platform content moderation decisions in a more pro-conservative direction? The administrative state historicallyhas not been the friendof conservative viewpoints, and regulators are not suddenly going to become more sympathetic to them.
Theyd more likely be shooting themselves in the foot. There has never been more opportunity for conservative viewpoints than right now. Each day on Facebook, the top-10 most shared links aredominated by punditssuch as Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino, Dinesh D'Souza and Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityLeft and right take aim at Big Tech and the First Amendment Rittenhouse says he's destroying gun used in fatal Kenosha shootings Dr. Oz expected to run for Senate in Pennsylvania as a Republican: reports MORE. Right-leaning content isshared widely on Twittereach day. Websites like Dailywire.com and Foxnews.comget far more trafficthan the New York Times or CNN.
Conservatives should push formore competition and choices,not more regulation and litigation. They should again embracethe vision President Reaganset forth in 1987, when he vetoed a bill to reestablish the Fairness Doctrine: History has shown that the dangers of an overly timid or biased press cannot be averted through bureaucratic regulation, but only through the freedom and competition that the First Amendment sought to guarantee.
It remains the principled path forward.
Adam Thiereris a senior research fellow at theMercatusCenter at George Mason University and author of Evasive Entrepreneurs and the Future of Governance.
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Posted: at 7:18 pm
Its impossible to know which stocks will dominate the stock market in a decades time, but we can fairly confidently say which companies will not be on that list: stocks that currently top todays market-cap ranking namely Apple AAPL, +2.80%, Microsoft MSFT, +2.83%, Amazon.com AMZN, -1.12%, Alphabet (Google) GOOG, +0.38% and Meta Platforms (Facebook) FB, -0.02%.
Thats because its rare for stocks at the top of the market-cap ranking to keep their status a decade later. Not only do they usually fall out of the top 10, they also underperform the market on average over the decade.
Thats according to an analysis conducted by Research Affiliates, the investment firm headed by Robert Arnott. To show the precarious position of the markets top dogs, he calculated what happened over the decade of the 1980s to the 10 largest publicly traded companies at the beginning of that 10-year period. Eight of the 10 were not on 1990s top-10 list, and all 10 on 1980s list underperformed the world stock market over the subsequent decade.
Arnott found that the 1980s were not unique. He reached a similar result for the top stocks of the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. On average, a stock on any of these lists underperformed the market over the subsequent decade. In addition, there was between a 70% and 80% chance that any given stock would not be on the comparable list one decade hence.
Arnott illustrated these top companies underperformance in another way as well: He constructed a hypothetical portfolio that each year owned the worlds 10-largest companies. The performance of this portfolio is plotted in the chart below. Over the 40 years from the end of 1980 through the end of 2020, this portfolio lagged a buy-and-hold by 1.8 annualized percentage points.
Numerous investment lessons can be drawn from Arnotts fascinating results. One is that cap-weighting is not the optimal weighting scheme for your portfolio. Equal-weighting is one obvious alternative, and it has beaten cap-weighting: since 1971, according to data from S&P Dow Jones Indices, the equal-weighted version of the S&P 500 SPX, +0.95% has outperformed the cap-weighted version by 1.5 annualized percentage points.
Arnott believes there are even better ways of weighting stocks in an index beyond equal weighting. His firm maintains a number of so-called fundamental indices that base a stocks weight on fundamental characteristics such as sales, cash flow, dividends and book equity value.
Just six stocks Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, Tesla and Meta Platforms account for 26% of the S&P 500s total market cap
But theres another investment implication of Arnotts data that I want to focus on: His results highlight the difficulties determining the valuation of a lopsided market.
Consider the S&P 500 currently, in which just six stocks Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, Tesla TSLA, +1.32% and Meta Platforms account for 26% of the indexs total market cap. Imagine a situation in which those six are overvalued while the other 494 stocks, on balance, are more fairly valued. In that case, the valuation ratios for the S&P 500 as a whole could paint a skewed picture.
This situation isnt just hypothetical. The largest six stocks currently have an average price/earnings ratio of 62.0, according to FactSet, more than double the average across all stocks in the S&P 500 of 29.1 and almost triple its median P/E ratio of 21.4.
Its possible, therefore, that the stock market isnt as overvalued as we would otherwise think by focusing on valuation ratios for the S&P 500 as a whole.
Mark Hulbert is a regular contributor to MarketWatch. His Hulbert Ratings tracks investment newsletters that pay a flat fee to be audited. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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